Catholic Priest and Papuan rights activist Neles Tebay (Tempo/-)
Papua Peace Network (JDP) coordinator and Catholic priest Neles Tebay died at the age of 55 on Sunday, having been in intensive care for the last few weeks for bone cancer at Saint Carolus Hospital in Central Jakarta.
Born in Dogiyai on Feb. 13, 1964, Neles studied in Rome, Italy, before teaching philosophy and theology at a local university and getting an ordination in 1992.
As a figure who actively promoted peace in Papua, he was a correspondent of The Jakarta Post describing the military conflict and human rights violations in the province through news and op-ed articles. In 2009, he also published a 50-page proposal to the government urging an inter-dialogue between conflicting sides.
As the western half of the island of New Guinea, Papua has faced conflicts despite integration into Indonesia in 1963. Neles has become a prominent voice in reporting about what happened in the region, including reporting about the existence of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), a separatist group whose members refuse to call themselves Indonesian as they consider the country to be a “colonizer” of their ancestral land.
The movement peaked in 1980 as the movement’s armed wing, the Papua Liberation Army, had killed police and military personnel while raising their Morning Star flag as a symbol of resistance.
In response, the government in the New Order era addressed the Papua conflict with gun use as they declared the area a military operation zone.
“All these signs indicate not only a lack of Indonesian nationalism but also the absence of lasting peace in Papua’s unsettled conflict,” Neles wrote in an op-ed article in the Post.
After the fall of Soeharto, the government changed its approach in the province by introducing the 2001 law on Papua special autonomy, which allows Papuans to take control of their regions through its legislative councils and local government offices.
However, resistance still persists among separatist movements as they claim that Papuans are excluded from the policy-making process. In fact, Neles once protested that all economic activities were still dominated by non-Papuans.
According to sesawi.net, there was still no information as of Sunday about whether or not his body would be sent to Jayapura, Papua, for collective prayers and burial processions.